“So Much for Protect and Serve”: Queer Male Survivors’ Perceptions of Negative Police Experiences

Published date01 May 2020
Date01 May 2020
Subject MatterArticles
/tmp/tmp-17k31dm9JhsxyQ/input 894430CCJXXX10.1177/1043986219894430Journal of Contemporary Criminal JusticeMeyer
Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice
2020, Vol. 36(2) 228 –250
“So Much for Protect and
© The Author(s) 2019
Article reuse guidelines:
Serve”: Queer Male Survivors’
DOI: 10.1177/1043986219894430
Perceptions of Negative
Police Experiences
Doug Meyer1
The author employs a critical queer criminology approach to examine the negative
reporting experiences of queer men who have been sexually assaulted. Based on
qualitative, in-depth interviews, findings reveal that queer men of color’s perceptions
differed based on gender expression with those participants who did not describe
themselves as feminine or gender-nonconforming expressing surprise that police
officers had disparaged their sexuality. Moreover, White participants differed based
on age, as younger White queer men expected the police to provide support, whereas
their older counterparts were not surprised by the negative police response. These
findings have implications for theorizing the intersections of gender and sexuality
with race and age, given that results indicate younger White queer men may
now increasingly perceive the police as providing protection. In contrast, gender-
nonconforming queer men of color described continual profiling experiences based
on their gender presentation and their racial identity.
sexual assault, queer criminology, intersectionality theory, racial profiling, police
Scholarship focusing on queer men who have been sexually assaulted has frequently
drawn attention to their negative experiences with the police (Jackson et al., 2017;
Javaid, 2018b; Rumney, 2008). In this article, I use “queer” as an umbrella term for
1University of Virginia, Charlottesville, USA
Corresponding Author:
Doug Meyer, Department of Women, Gender & Sexuality, University of Virginia, Levering Hall, P.O. Box
400172, Charlottesville, VA 22904, USA.
Email: dom6e@virginia.edu

sexual minorities, which includes anyone who does not identify as heterosexual, and
examine the perceptions of 21 queer men who had negative police experiences after
reporting a sexual assault. In one of the earlier studies on this topic, Abdullah-Khan
(2008) found that “many officers are unsympathetic and do not take male rape seri-
ously” (p. 134), whereas Rumney’s (2009) review of this literature indicated that
“some police officers and other criminal justice professionals appear to attach to gay
men or those they perceive as gay highly questionable assumptions regarding credibil-
ity, trauma, and truthfulness” (p. 238). More recent work has similarly revealed that
some police officers position queer men’s sexual assault experiences as consensual,
often blaming them for the violence and drawing on stereotypical understandings of
gay and bisexual men as sexually promiscuous (Jackson et al., 2017; Javaid, 2018a).
In this regard, Javaid’s (2018b) research based on interviews and qualitative question-
naires involving police officers has pointed to how “gay male rape victims are often
seen as having ‘asked for it’ and are, therefore, blamed for their rape” (p. 762). Overall,
this line of scholarship indicates that queer men share some similar experiences with
other survivors in their reporting to the police, as other groups such as women and
heterosexual men also face victim-blaming responses; at the same time, queer men
appear to experience some negative reactions unique to their own social position,
informed by overlapping gender and sexuality norms (Anderson & Doherty, 2008;
Bernstein & Kostelac, 2002; Gregory & Lees, 1999; Javaid, 2015).
Although this research has provided significant insights into the ways that societal
prejudice structures police responses toward gay and bisexual men, little remains
known regarding differences among this group of men (Dunn, 2012; Lowe & Rogers,
2017; Tillapaugh, 2017). For instance, this line of scholarship has yet to explore how
queer male survivors differ based on race or age in their reporting experiences (Garvey
et al., 2017; Hlavka, 2017; Ralston, 2012). Conversely, I focus on age and intraracial
differences among queer male survivors’ perceptions, drawing on qualitative, inter-
view-based research conducted with 60 queer men in the United States. In total, 23 of
the 60 respondents reported an experience of sexual assault to the police; all 23 partici-
pants reported only one experience and the vast majority (21) characterized the police
response as negative. This article focuses on these 21 respondents with negative expe-
riences, revealing intraracial differences within the categories of “white queer men”
and “queer men of color.”
Research on the effects of race has typically examined interracial differences, as a
substantial amount of scholarship has shown, for example, that Black men fear and
expect less supportive responses from the police than White men (Braga et al., 2019;
Brunson, 2007; Epp et al., 2014). Although studies focusing on these interracial
dynamics remain important, exploring intraracial differences is also necessary given
that a growing body of scholarship indicates significant variation within racial groups
(Gibson & Nelson, 2018; Unnever et al., 2019; Wheelock et al., 2019). Here, findings
reveal complex differences among queer men of color based on gender expression and
among White queer men based on age. Focusing on intraracial variation, this article
details the potential implications of such results for the emerging field of queer crimi-
nology (Buist & Lenning, 2016; Dwyer & Tomsen, 2016; Woods, 2014).

Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice 36(2)
Building on scholarship that has explored the role of race in men’s experiences
with the police, I argue for a critical criminology approach that considers intersec-
tions of race and age with gender and sexuality (Brunson, 2007; Epp et al., 2014).
Critical criminology, a theoretical perspective concerned with understanding and cri-
tiquing the ways in which the criminal-legal system reinforces social inequalities, has
increasingly been employed in studies involving queer populations (Ball, 2016b;
Buist & Lenning, 2016; Dalton, 2016). At the same time, some research in this area
has noted the degree to which intersectionality—a theoretical orientation that exam-
ines the overlap of power structures such as race, class, gender, and sexuality—has
often not been employed in this scholarship, despite some notable exceptions (Ball,
2016a; Panfil, 2017; Ritchie, 2013). Intersectionality involves a critical approach
toward systems of oppression, such as heteronormativity or institutional racism,
exploring their overlap rather than treating them as separate and independent of one
another (Crenshaw, 1991; Potter, 2015; Taylor, 2016). Important bodies of scholar-
ship in queer criminology and intersectional feminist criminology have developed,
yet here I build on their overlap, arguing that criminological work on queer popula-
tions would benefit from incorporating more intersectional analyses (Buist et al.,
2018; Ralston, 2012). Indeed, this research reveals that examining queer criminologi-
cal topics through an intersectional lens can add more nuance to our understanding of
these topics by demonstrating the multifaceted ways that power structures shape indi-
viduals’ experiences and perceptions.
Although studies of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, and asexual
(LGBTQIA) people’s experiences in correctional settings have become a substantial
body of scholarship, research in queer criminology has frequently pointed to the mar-
ginalization of LGBTQIA issues from dominant criminal justice frameworks (Ball,
2016a; Panfil, 2017; Woods, 2014). In this regard, prevailing criminological approaches,
despite some noteworthy examples to the contrary, have typically explored issues such
as police brutality and racial profiling without considering gender and sexuality (Dwyer,
2011; Meyer, 2015; Mogul et al., 2011; Ritchie, 2013). Still, considerable evidence sug-
gests that LGBTQIA people of color experience disproportionately high rates of police
harassment, particularly those who are transgender or gender-nonconforming (Buist &
Stone, 2014; Gibson, 2011; Spade, 2015; Stotzer, 2014). Consequently, this more criti-
cal area of research has argued for a “queering” of traditional criminological scholar-
ship, in which gender and sexuality, in addition to race and social class, become
understood as central to theorizing on the criminal-legal system (Buist et al., 2018;
Dalton, 2016).
This growing body of research in queer criminology has provided important under-
standings of how racial inequities intersect with heteronormativity, yet less is known
in terms of how these intersections operate in the context of policing and sexual assault
(Hlavka, 2017; Javaid, 2015; Weiss, 2010). While White queer men have generally
been privileged in LGBTQIA advocacy work and scholarship, studies of sexual assault
have more frequently focused on women survivors, which has tended to leave unex-
plored the experiences of groups such as queer men (Abdullah-Khan, 2008; Cohen,
2014; Lowe & Rogers, 2017). Furthermore, queer men of color have not typically

featured centrally in the literature on sexual assault, as some work has...

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